Friday, September 01, 2006

Concubines in Halakhah

Dr. Marc Shapiro had an article published recently in Yeshivat Chovevei Torah's journal Milin Havivin (vol. 2) on the subject of concubines in halakhah. The bulk of the article is the first publication of a letter on the subject by a learned rabbi to R. Chaim Ozer Grodzenski, one of the (if not THE) leading halakhic decisors of their day. R. Grodzenski responded to this letter with a long responsum (Achi'ezer 3:23) disputing most of its claims. The publication of this letter is probably only of interest to historians (like Dr. Shapiro) and not really to me.

However, Dr. Shapiro wrote an introduction to this letter that I find very interesting. In flowery rabbinic Hebrew, Dr. Shapiro discusses some of the history of those who have permitted concubines in various situations. Some famous posekim and some rabbis who, despite the great honorifics Dr. Shapiro appends to their names, I've never heard of. This is all fascinating. Most importantly, Dr. Shapiro emphasizes that all of these rabbis permitted concubines in various cases in order to prevent promiscuity and never to allow or encourage it. Dr. Shapiro points out that certainly none of these great scholars would permit such a practice today, "in a generation that is immersed in the 49 gates of impurity" (p. 28).

Note that according to Drew Kaplan, Dr. Shapiro's article was written before another recent article on the subject was published.

The Hebrew section of Milin Havivin can be downloaded here (PDF), although the pages are out of order. Dr. Shapiro's article is in pages 25-33. You can download the English section of the journal here (PDF).

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